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Family Unification
and Settlement

Fascist Era
Post World War II

Cultural Life

by Adriana Albi Davies, Ph.D.

Page 1  |  2

In World War I, Canadians of Italian ancestry fought in the war. At the beginning of the War, there was distrust of Italians because of their alliance with Germany and Austria but, once Italy allied itself with Great Britain, the situation changed. In May, 1924, il treno degli italiani crossed Canada, picking up volunteers to serve in the military. Harney quotes the following statement chalked on the train: "Torniamo in Italia, Andiamo a fare la Guerra, Andiamo a prendere Trento e Trieste, Britons we are here" [Let us return to Italy, Let's make war, Let's go and take Trento and Trieste].

With the rise of Fascism in Italy, the representatives of the Italian government in Canada, the Consular Agents, certainly promoted Fascism. Italian communities had both anti- and pro-Fascists in their numbers. Stan Carbone recounts that in Winnipeg one anti-Fascist consul was replaced by a pro-Fascist one. Initially, Mussolini was viewed positively by many North American politicians and industrialists because he was seen as a force to bring order and good government. This opinion began to change with the invasion of Ethiopia and with the Italian declaration of war on Canada on June 10, 1940, all Italians, no matter how long they had been in Canada, were viewed as enemy aliens. 

Casa d'Italia in Montreal, Quebec.  Architectural details on this building are associated with the "fascist" style popular in Italy at the time.  Photo from the book Gli Italiani in Canada by  Rev. G. Vangelista.Italian societies were suspect and the Casa d'Italia (Italian cultural centre) in Montreal and Toronto were shut down. Italian men were arrested and interned (many ending up at Camp Petawawa in Ontario) and property seized. Father Vangelista provides a graphic account of the experience in Montreal. He notes that in 1934, the Italian population of Montreal had reached 24,000 and many were influentials. Evelyn M. Halickman in a paper titled "The Italian Community Montreal," (May, 1962) notes that there were well-established Italian communities in four areas: Mt. Carmel, Mile End, Montcalm and Ville Emard." ¹  Halickman further notes that the rise of Fascism provided an impetus to develop Italian organizations. 

The community had built the Casa d'Italia on land donated by the City between 1934-36. The community was prosperous and entrenched so the mass arrests came as a great surprise. While the RCMP had lists of Italian community members (some claim that the membership lists of the Casa d'Italia were used), there were also community "snitches." While there may have been a number of Fascist sympathizers, it is unlikely that all of the men arrested initially and the fewer numbers interned were actually Fascists and a danger to the Canadian state. This episode was viewed as a shameful occurrence by members of the Italian community and many totally rejected their Italian heritage and some went so far as to change their names. 


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